Kenyan police tortured, raped, and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 refugees in the country’s capital, Nairobi, between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.
The 68-page report, “You are All Terrorists: Kenyan Police Abuse of Refugees in Nairobi,” is based on interviews with 101 refugees, asylum seekers, and Kenyans of Somali ethnicity, the rights group said.
The report documents how police used grenade attacks, and violence by unknown attackers in Nairobi’s mainly Somali suburb of Eastleigh and a government order, as excuse to relocate urban refugees to camps where they were raped, beaten and extorted. At least 1,000 people were arbitrarily detained.
The police described their victims as “terrorists,” and demanded payments to free them. The assault lasted 10 weeks.
“Refugees told us how hundreds of Kenyan police unleashed 10 weeks of hell on communities close to the heart of Nairobi, torturing, abusing, and stealing from some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Randomly attacking men, women, and children in their homes and in the streets is hardly an effective way to protect Kenya’s national security.”
Human Rights Watch accused the United Nations refugee agency of failing to document and publicly report the abuses, and called Kenyan authorities to initiate immediate and independent investigation into the allegations.
Key members of Kenya’s government, including the country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, currently face serious allegations of crimes against humanity and are wanted by the International Criminal Court to stand trial.
This week, Mr. Kenyatta received the backing of the African Union which raised a resolution asking that he be tried in Kenya, and not The Hague.
In January, Kenya’s High Court ordered the authorities to suspend the refugee relocation plan –under which 55,000 refugees and asylum seekers are supposed to leave Kenya’s cities and move to squalid, overcrowded, and closed refugee camps – until the court decides whether it is lawful.
Human Rights Watch said it received testimonies from Somali and Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers who had lived for many years with their families in Eastleigh, who narrated how police rampaged through the suburb beginning on November 19, 2012, a day after unidentified people attacked a minibus, killing 7 people and injuring 30.
Interviewees said officers from four of Kenya’s police forces – the General Services Unit (GSU), the Regular Police (RP), the Administration Police (AP), and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) – abused them, with the GSU committing the majority of the documented abuses.
Seven women described how police raped them in their homes, on side streets, and on wasteland, in some cases with children close by. One of the women who was raped said police also raped three other women in the same attack.
Forty refugees, including many women, described how police beat, kicked, and punched them and their children in their homes, in the street, and in police vehicles, causing serious injury and long-term pain, the rights group said in the report.
Dozens of people spoke about how police entered businesses and homes, often in the middle of the night, stole large amounts of money and other personal belongings, and extorted money to let them go free.
The report also documents almost 1,000 cases in which police arbitrarily detained refugees and asylum seekers in their homes, in the street, in police vehicles, and in police stations – sometimes for many days in inhuman and degrading conditions.
Kenyan authorities did not respond to the findings of the Human Rights Watch.
“The inaction deepens Kenya’s long record of impunity for law enforcement officers, who for many years have abused Somali Kenyans and Somali refugees in the country’s North Eastern region, including in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp on the border with Somalia,” the group said.